Should new teachers be left alone to teach the most challenging classes?
This is a question asked by a second-year teacher who, with permission, has granted permission to share her story. Coincidentally, I also received this message from an experienced teacher who has returned from overseas.
Having successfully completed my newly qualified teacher year, I was looking forward to my next with a more challenging class and with a number of children who had complex learning needs, including one child who was recommended to have 24/7 support the year before, but still didn’t even have one-to-one support.
The alarm bells started to ring, however, my NQT mentor reassured me that she thought I was capable, so I began the year confidently and excited by the challenge. As the term set in, I realised that the class were more than a challenge and I didn’t know whether my second-year knowledge could undertake this task.
With a part-time SENCO who eventually went off sick, I really struggled to find the resources to support the learning needs in the class. I would spend my evenings and weekends researching behaviour strategies, differentiation and specific learning needs to equip myself to meet the many of the daily challenges. I ended up putting my teaching assistant with the child that needed one-to-one support. This left me fire-fighting with the rest of the class which has six other children who have complex needs.
Is this normal?
The behaviour policy included children being sent to the senior leadership team for isolation, and once the children got there, they often got to colour in and eat sweets! It was a confusing message for those in my class …
Early into the first autumn term, I asked my head teacher to come and observe the class, which they did. I received no feedback from the observation other than, “The class were not as bad as I thought” and that myself and the teaching assistant were being negative. On reflection, I remained positive in the lessons and this was an easier way of addressing the problem.
Towards the end of the first term, the shadowing SENCO covered my class and went to the head teacher and questioned whether they had “Any idea the type of class [you have] left me with?” The Headteacher responded to explain that the pupils were “A nightmare cohort” and that they were aware of the situation. With this in mind, the shadowing SENCO encouraged me to go and speak to the head teacher to explain how I was feeling. I was exhausted, anxious and heading for burnout.
How is this making you sick?
Feeling hopeful, I went to speak to the head teacher who responded with hostility.
“If you’re drained, why are you taking the children to the Christmas Light Switch on? They are never going to be the perfect class you want them to be.”
When I became emotional and explained that I thought it was beginning to make me ill, she sarcastically responded:
“How is this making you sick?”
Following on from this, the head teacher asked me if I wanted to be referred to Occupational Health. In my head I was thinking, “Hang on, I don’t think the problem is with me, I just need some help with the class; a listening ear and extra support for the children who are entitled to it would be nice.” I was becoming a scapegoat for the senior leadership team and my mental health was becoming the focus rather than the class.
Experienced teacher friends spotted what was happening and gave me the confidence to stand up for myself. More recently, a friend was offered a life coach to deal with stress at work. The occupational health suggestion and ‘offering me more time out of class’ (but you must fill out and sign a form) felt like the school was simply ‘dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s’ ready for Ofsted rocking up with their wellbeing agenda.
I didn’t need the extra time out of class, I didn’t need a yoga session after school and I didn’t need occupation health. I and the other teachers simply wanted to be shown compassion when we were brave enough to ask for help.
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”